We are living extraordinary times but...

It is time to move on for Eurocrat!

The Treaty of Lisbon has entered into force and the European Institutions, and in particular the Commission, are experiencing changes of a great magnitude.

For the first time in many years, the role of each institution are being redefined: in the Commission, I believe it is the first treaty which transfer some powers to the Council; the Parliament is pumping more democracy in our institutions...

Many of the colleagues are getting nervous because of the new commission (which usually bring a restructuring) is happening with the ratification of a major treaty. But I personally feel confident that we are going in the right direction, the direction of democracy and governance.

I, for my part, am moving on professionally and I am taking the opportunity to conclude my blogging experience.
It has been a very thoughtful experience and I hope I have dispelled some mis-perceptions about European Officials.

The Euro-Blogosphere is very rich and growing and I hope there will be someone else to take my small chair...



How to become a Fonctionnaire without ever passing a Concours?

Things are now settling down at the top level, with a president everybody expected and a High Representative out of the blue. The English played it very well... on that one. The gender balance did also play a critical role. But now it is time to think about a new commission and there will be a very good opportunity to join the EC without ever passing the Concours.

I remember some time ago a post by Julian Frish on the cost of hiring Officials. Te Court of Auditors investigated a bit how the European Institutions recruit and came up of a cost of 7000€ per person on the Reserve List. Now EPSO is changing the whole recruitment process: from knowledge to competencies...

But did you know that you could become an Official without going through EPSO? Difficult but not impossible... Well do you know people? do you happen to know a commissioner? Then offer to work in his cabinet, and boom! you are a Fonctionnaire. And if you are lucky, when the Commission's term is over, you will get to pass an internal concours, terribly favorable to you, to become a head of Unit. And if you are extremely lucky to be the director of the cabinet of your commissioner, you might just become directly a Director General.

Well, forget about EPSO and all this none sense Numerical and Verbal tests; just work for your favorite commissioner and start a wonderful career in the European Institutions!

The Business of Outsourcing

As the years go by, the public service is getting more and more privatized. You might have witnessed in your respective countries that we should trust the private sector to deliver a better value-for-money service. Reagan and Maggy Thatcher started it all in the 80's, and it has lead to some extreme with the financial sector or the underdogs in the Iraq war. But I am not there to argue if it is a good or a bad thing. I have my own opinion on it, but I just want to show you how it is affecting us at the EC.

When it was created in the 1950's, with Germany, France, Italy and Benelux, the Commission was seen as the ultimate public sector agent. Those guys were offered a well paid lifetime employment in exchange for their technical, managerial, political expertises. Nowadays, ADMINISTRATORS are wanted...

The critical point was the 2004, with the Kinnock reform of the Status. No more cooks fonctionnaire, no more guard fonctionnaire... all outsourced to major contractors. In a sense, was it legitimate to give the same status to all the categories. The underlying rationale was that you should give a compensation package good enough to protect the Commission's independence. So it makes some sense to provide the cooking or cleaning services through the private sector, as I remind you incentives to perform well are rarely in our organisation.

Nowadays, on the higher level, the vision of the EC is to be a public government only to administer and use technical expertise from the private sector.

So the technical expertise is outsourced to Contractual Agents and consultants. It is starting to create a quality problem. One, CA are paid correctly, but their lack of long term perspective prevents from attratcting top talents. Don't get me wrong, CA are in vast majority bright and motivated individuals, but how much people don't join the EC because of the 3 year rule. With respect to consultants, the sacred consultants, it is not that we are paying them well, it is just that our procedures are very cumbersome and rarely focused on quality. Let me give you an example, or to say our dilema. You want some expertise on a domain that you don't have in-house. So if you have a lot of budget and a lot of time, than you just tender a call for proposal, get a panel of evaluators, wait 6 months before the guys deliver the product. If it is a quick need, then you use Framework contracts: in a week you get 3 proposals from selected contractors... contractors, not really, just recruiters who post the jobs on the Internet. And don't think you get the best consultants in a week of time!

Eventually, the critical question is: how do you evaluate the work of the consultants, when they have the expertise and you are just an administrator??? Do you hire other consultants to evaluate your first consultants?

It is all about finding the right balance between technical and administrative expertises... the original status was maybe to focus on the technical one, but the reform is rushing to the other extreme. But it is how reforms go, right?

Habeus Papam!

Yes we have a winner for the post of president of the UE. Most of us are still guessing, but it is clear that we have a winner... actually winners (for the high representative as well).

The Swedes have convened a Council Meeting next week, and officially it will be a former or current head of government...It can only mean that a consensus has been reached on Herman Van Rompuy, current Prime Minister of Belgium.

Tony Blair got burnt on the last lap, by a sacrifice from Junker. Quite a rooky mistake if you ask me for a "political animal" such as Blair.

And then Van Rompuy appeared miraculously as the best, not-charismatic, from a small country, fine negotiator candidate. The ironic thing is that the stability long awaited for the Union will be at the detriment of Belgium... Another inestimable sacrifice!

For the HR position, Miliband judiciously set himself out of the game... probably to reconstruct the Labor Party next year. D'Alema is now the lead candidate for the HR position. Once again, appearing from nowhere! I am surprised that Berlusconi would leave such a strategic position to a member of his opposition, what is left of Silvio's reputation?

Let's see next week!

In the News: Treaty of Lisbon

Well, well, well... Finally, Vaclav Klaus signed the Treaty of Lisbon today! It was a long and tortuous ratification process, with many hurdles, delays and surprises and hopefully the Treaty will enter into force this December.

I thought it would be harder to get Klaus to sign, but apparently the man isn't foolish as I thought. The British Tories are now in an interesting position... But don't worry Cameron, you can still withdraw from the Union :)

It was a strange time here at the European Commission, as people got a bit surprised by how fast the Treaty and the Irish vote passed through. Some of us really thought that we would get stuck in Nice forever. Some even said that Klaus delays in signing the Treaty allowed people to get ready.

The hot topic nowadays is the External Service and the High Representative (HR). As you know, it is one of the main innovations of the treaty and the HR is likely to be become even more powerful than the president of the Union. So negotiations are ongoing on the subject and many of our colleagues in the RELEX (External Relations) family are worried by the structuring of the External Service. Because the Service will be mixed with the Commission, the Council and the Member States, everyone is trying to protect his own backyard: diplomacy, development, trade, enlargement. And even the Parliament is joining the debate, threatening with his new powers!

Many internal session to inform are being conducted but still nothing seems decided. The Treaty stipulates that the External Service is to be defined by a Council Decision on a proposal by the HR himself... Thrilling, isn't it?

In the News: Fruits and Vegetables

Well that was some time ago, but I found an interesting perspective on that...

So remember that everybody was relieved when the EC allowed ugly fruit and vegetables back in shops (see the BBC news here)?

Guess what? you can't blame the Eurocrats for that silly rule, which lasted decades. The rule was established by the United Nations (UNECE) after WWII to facilitate trade.

The only thing you can blame on us is how keen we were to adopt it. Read the following from the UNECE website:

The standardization activities of the UNECE include the harmonization of existing national standards into international commercial quality standards for a wide range of perishable products, including fresh fruit and vegetables, dry and dried product (fruit as well as vegetables), seed potatoes, eggs and egg products, meat (bovine, chicken, llama/alpaca, ovine, porcine, and turkey) and cut flowers. The UNECE Working Party on Agricultural Quality Standards (WP.7) and its specialized sections have drawn up close to 100 standards for the purpose of facilitating international trade between and to UNECE member countries (see List of agricultural quality standards). The Geneva Protocol on Standardization of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables and Dry and Dried Fruit sets the basis for this work. Worldwide Codex standards for fruit juices and quick frozen foods have also been prepared by joint groups of experts of UNECE and the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Many of the UNECE standards for perishable produce have been used as reference in the European Commission regulations.

Bloody UNcrats!!! you really got the blame on us for that...

In the News: Thanks Ireland!

A major hurdle was passed this weekend, with Ireland voting yes to the Lisbon Treaty. I think I got the trick now... for every referendum we should plan two votes from the Irish folks.

Anyhow, that was a good effort, nice participation and an unambiguous score, even though it was the 250th anniversary of Guinness apparently.

Well the battle is far from over, as we still need to convince the Czech President (still don't know how he got there though...) Shall we give him the ultimate threat: the Multilingualism portfolio in the next commission? I am not even sure it will work though.